Abby Tegnelia moved to the dusty beach town of Playas del Coco, Costa Rica after ten years living and working a fast-paced life in NYC, Las Vegas and LA. She is the co-founder of the celebrity news agency All Star Reports but has the most fun on her blog The Jungle Princess. I caught up with her in Costa Rica and we were able to get this interview ready despite her one week trip to NYC and escape to Nicaragua.
Hi, Abby! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a journalist living in a tiny pueblo called Playas del Coco, on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. After ten years working mostly at celebrity weeklies, I came down to Costa Rica last August for a little break. I fell in love with it here and stayed, eventually starting my own celebrity news agency, modeled after Reuters or Associated Press. I travel whenever I get the chance and am in an especially antsy mood right now!
You are well traveled. What made you choose the countries you have visited?
I have a long way to go… As far as choosing locations, I think they chose me! In China, Brazil and Malaysia, for example, I was visiting a friend who was either from there or living there. I came to Costa Rica with friends who had just rented a house in Coco. After I got here, I found out that an old friend of mine from NYC was also living in this town of 3000 people. It was just too easy to stay! Whenever I’m unsure of my next trip, something or someone pops out of the woodwork. Once I’m there, I can find adventure anywhere!
Are there any places you would like to go back to? Which did you like most?
Spain is the one place I kept going back to for many years, but now I haven’t been for a very long time. I’d love to see more of Brazil and China, but also the other Central American countries like Guatemala and Panama. My list is very, very long. Looking forward to seeing what trips I can nail down for the rest of this year.
How about any you would avoid altogether?
I don’t have a short list, no. But I’m not heading to any dangerous places alone! In general, I am usually up for just about anything.
You fell in love with Costa Rica. Tell us about this.
I moved here with a few friends I no longer talk to. What started off as a bad situation led me to spending more time with an old friend from NYC who, as I mentioned before, was unbeknownst to me also living in Coco. Her barrio adopted me as one of its own, and I’ve never had an easier move. I was going through a very tough year, one of those bad cycles where everything goes wrong and you have to start all over, feeling beat-up. Breathing in Costa Rica’s beautiful nature scene and laidback lifestyle was just the rejuvenation I needed. I got here during rainy season, and I’d sit outside reading under the trees, watching for rainbows. Monkeys and roosters were my alarm clock. It really was a dream.
Pursuing a location independent job that will let you travel yet make a decent income is a dream for many, but a reality you have achieved. How did you go about this?
For me it happened organically. When I lost my job at one of the celebrity weeklies, I suddenly found myself struggling as a freelancer. The US mags were paying so little for stories, so I offered a friend in Europe a cut of my sales to start pitching my stuff with hers. I was desperate and having a hard time breaking into the European market. But I recognized the need for US celebrity news in Europe, and I went for it. Sometimes desperation leads to the clearest thinking and most innovative ideas. Never underestimate the power of becoming very close to losing everything!
All Star Reports is a very successful online business. Was it difficult to set it up? Did you need any help?
Again, it sort of happened on its own. There have been major hiccups, of course, mostly involving the reporters we work with making mistakes. Something like that could ruin us. We struggle through the growing pains, moving quickly to fix any problems. Like at any company, there are some communication issues. Mostly this comes from the fact that I don’t have face time with my business partner, so things get misconstrued. We’ve literally never met – or even Skyped on video. She lives in Prague, and I live in Costa Rica, but often she’s my closest friend. It’s strange to think about for sure! Otherwise, I highly recommend getting a very good accountant.
Because of work, you find yourself flying to NYC, LA and Las Vegas often. It must be interesting to live in the jungle and take care of business in cities like these.
I love cities, especially NYC. But I no longer have to bend over backwards to try to fit in, buy the right clothes, go to the right gym. Now, I go only for work, and then go back “home” to my slow little life in Costa Rica. It’s a dream come true to have business meetings in exciting cities and a life in the tropics. Also, my job is just a job for the first time in my life; my identity is no longer attached to it. This has created a new emotionally steady me who I never knew existed.
Many travelers try to make space for themselves in the travel writing business. You chose a completely different alternative and have succeeded. What would you recommend aspiring entrepreneurs like yourself do to reach their goals?
I have been in love with journalism for as long as I can remember! So for me, when I was working in magazines, I was doing the equivalent of a travel writer/blogger living off of travel writing. It was both a curse and a dream to get paid to do what I loved. I got so emotionally attached to my job, and it became my whole life, morning, noon and night. I breathe a lot better now that who I am as a person is separated from what I do. I have set up a life where I can live where I want and have time to do the things I’ve always dreamed of. Travel is now my passion, and travel writing for me now is a hobby; there’s no price tag or pressure on it at all. It has led me to such a happier place.
Is there anything you miss because of living where you do?
Dating! Expat dating is virtually non-existent in a town as small as mine. It sometimes gets very lonely.
Do you see yourself in CR for many years to come? What other places would you consider living in?
If I knew the next place I wanted to live, I’d be there! All of my moves have happened within a week or two of coming up with the next place I wanted to call home. I’m in Costa Rica indefinitely, but that will probably change. I’d consider all kinds of places, but I wouldn’t leave my close friends in Coco just because. I’d love to head to a bigger city so I could meet more people, but then I wouldn’t be able to save as much money as I am now. I’m socking it away for something good! My next move will happen very quickly; it always does.
Finally, do you have time for pleasure trips now? If so, where will you be heading next?
Sure! I can work from anywhere. That means I never have to be “at the office,” but I’m kind of always working. I had to miss the second day of TBEX last weekend in NYC because I had to work, but at least I was there. I just got back from a week in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. I’d love to travel more around Central and South America. Planning some trips for this fall, I hope.
You can follow Abby through her Twitter account @abbytegnelia